The House of Representatives has come out against a trade union proposal to reduce the working week to 36 hours. Voters are to be given a final say on the initiative at the ballot box.
The proposal, by the Trade Union Federation, foresees gradually reducing the working week to 36 hours, or a maximum of 1,872 hours annually. Currently, employees in Switzerland work an average of 42 hours per week.
During Thursday's debate in the House of Representatives, supporters of the initiative argued that reducing the working week would create an additional 250,000 jobs and bring labour conditions in line with other European countries, such as neighbouring France, which has a 35-hour working week.
The initiative's backers, mainly from the Social Democratic and Green Parties, also pointed out the health and social benefits for employees and their families.
However, opponents criticised the initiative as inflexible and impractical, saying it would threaten growth at a time when the economy is performing well.
They added that shorter working hours would damage Switzerland's competitiveness, and lead to job losses and an increase in illegal work practices.
The economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, reiterated the government's objections to the initiative in his address to parliament, which is holding its spring session in Lugano.
He said the proposal could lead to more unemployment, which currently stands at two per cent, and added that the government believes that the issue of working hours should be settled between employers and employees.
The Senate has still to discuss the proposal before it comes to nationwide vote. Swiss voters have rejected proposals to reduce the working week three times over the past 25 years.
Under current laws, the maximum number of working hours per week varies from between 45 and 50 hours. The average working week in Switzerland is 42 hours.
The Federal Railways introduced the 39-hour working week for its employees as part of efforts to save about 500 jobs.
by Urs Geiser